David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


"pitchers are such disasters at the plate"

 April 16, 2014

BAD AND GETTING WORSE

MATTHEW KORY

There's this great picture of Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon that has been circling the internet. It shows Colon standing at the plate, bat in hand, while the pitch arrives. The pitch is so far outside that the catcher is stretching to reach it yet, mysteriously, Colon is thrusting his posterior out of the way of an inside pitch. It's funny because it looks like he's reacting to a pitch that is going to hit him while facing a pitch that is in no danger of hitting him. What is he doing? The subtext is ha ha silly pitcher can't hit. And it's true! Colon can't hit.

Some large portion of his inability to hit stems from the fact that he does not hit. I don't mean he doesn't hit well -- though actually I mean that too, and we'll get to that later on -- I mean he never gets to hit. Colon has appeared in 412 games and thrown 2,589 innings in his major league career, yet he has come to bat just 106 times, 43 of which came in 2002 after he was dealt from Cleveland to the Montreal Expos at the trade deadline. Prior to his half season in the NL, Colon had been with Cleveland for five-and-a-half seasons. Afterwards, he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He was there for a season before moving on to play with, in order, the Angels, the Red Sox, the White Sox (again), the Yankees and the A's before signing with the Mets this off-season. You'll notice every single one of those teams before "Mets" was in the AL. As such, Bartolo Colon: Hitter* is what you might call "out of practice."

*Worst musical ever

Of course, he's also what you might call "bad at it." Colon is a career .100/.108/.100 hitter. His on-base percentage is different from his batting average because he was hit by a pitch once, on July 28, 2002. Other than that, they're the same thing. He has 10 singles in 98 plate appearances. That is extremely bad, even if we restrict our sample to other pitchers who also (presumably) can't hit. This season, pitchers are hitting .121/.145/.155 (through Monday's games). That's a small sample, but it's not totally out of line with how pitchers have performed over the last four seasons. In 2013, pitchers hit .132 with a .333 OPS. In 2012, they hit .129 with a .327 OPS. In 2011, it was .141 with a .357 OPS. In 2010 it was .1-something with an embarrassing OPS. You get the idea. So, even for a pitcher, Colon is not good. But that's at least partly due to a further disadvantage for Colon.

As detailed above, Colon spent almost his entire career in the American League. American League pitchers don't hit, of course; the DH hits for them. The only time AL pitchers hit during the regular season is when they're playing interleague games in National League parks. For example, last season, 93.6 percent of the time a pitcher came to bat, he was a NL pitcher. NL pitchers aren't good hitters, but AL pitchers aren't good hitters and they're horribly out of practice. That's why AL pitchers hit .085/.127/.094* last season. That's a .221 OPS, a number that would be bad as a batting average. It's also pretty close to Colon's career OPS. Suddenly Colon is less of a punchline and more of an average-hitting American League pitcher.

*By the way, if you ever want to win an argument for the DH, know that line right there.

None of this explains why, AL pitcher or not, Colon and his fellow pitchers are such disasters at the plate. Has it always been this way? I went back through baseball history to find out. My report, titled "500 Pages To Say Yes," will be out in a few years, so you can look for that, but the executive summary is available now: Yes.

MLB pitchers as hitters

Year

OPS

1913

.446

1923

.506

1933

.452

1947*

.447

1953

.438

1963

.364

1973

.380

1983

.360

1993

.367

2003

.396

2013

.333

*chosen rather than 1943 due
to World War II

It's a qualified "yes," though. At right, here's a list of pitchers' OPS from last season and every 10 years, going back a century. (I danced around 1943 because World War II was in full swing then and many major leaguers were fighting overseas, so that might give off a non-representative number.)

The numbers say two things. First, pitchers have always been bad hitters. Even in the age before the DH, before sliders, before integration, before modern nutrition and strength training, pitchers were lousy hitters. Even at their best, they were bad; the highest OPS listed, .506, is still awful. Since the end of the war, no pitcher season has topped 1951's .462 OPS. Last season, the lowest OPS of any qualified batter was Alcides Escobar's .559, which tells you how bad Alcides Escobar was last year, but still. Pitchers have always been bad.

Secondly, even though they've always been bad, pitchers used to be better hitters, and have been getting worse. Maybe this is a sign that pitchers aren't working hard enough at hitting; being a major league hitter requires intense work and focus, and it requires a level of skill that one can't maintain while working as intently on something else, like being a major league pitcher. Conversely, this may be a sign pitching itself has become more difficult over the years, and therefore requires more of a pitcher's time and effort. This leaves less time available to devote to other more ancillary skills, such as hitting.

But we should go back to the difference between AL and NL pitchers. That difference illustrates in a nutshell why pitchers aren't good hitters. Take any average pitcher, and put him on a NL team. Given enough plate appearances, his OPS will be roughly 100 points higher than if he'd been drafted, developed, and played for an AL team. The difference isn't chance, it's practice. While batters are working on every intricacy of mastering hitting, pitchers rarely touch a bat until they're handed one and pointed towards a major league on-deck circle.

If you think about the way players learn the game, this makes sense. In Little League, everyone plays everywhere, but the best players pitch and play shortstop. In Babe Ruth League and high school, some specialization is introduced, with some players turning to pitching or playing the field full time, though probably most still move around as needed. In college, specialization increases again, and once players are drafted, if there is any question which way a player will go, teams typically decide between the two paths at that point. Nick Markakis was both a highly-touted pitcher and hitter when the Orioles picked him in 2003, but Baltimore elected to use him as an outfielder. It was the same with Casey Kelly, who was a shortstop and pitcher when the Red Sox drafted him in 2008. After splitting time his first pro season, the player and organization agreed that he should concentrate on pitching full time, at least in part because he wouldn't be able to attain the required skill level unless he narrowed his focus to one position. All players undergo this paring of positions as they rise up the ladder towards the majors. If they didn't, they simply wouldn't make it.

That's not to say there aren't some pitchers who can hit a bit. There are. Dan Haren is a particularly competent hitter, at least within the scope of this article, as are Mike Leake and Carlos Zambrano. Perhaps the best of all recent pitcher hitting seasons was Zack Greinke's 2013, in which he hit .328 with a .409 on-base percentage. It was bizarre -- what the heck was Greinke doing with a .409 on-base percentage? It seemed likely he'd stolen it from a position player while he wasn't looking, as prior to 2013, Greinke was a .171 hitter with a .191 on-base percentage. But productive pitcher hitting seasons like Greinke's are the extreme outlier.

There are outliers in the other direction as well. Four pitchers last season finished with at least 50 plate appearances and an OPS below .200, which is a level of offensive production that ceases to be both offense and production. The offenders were Jorge De La Rosa, Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano. Of the four, only Liriano finished with an on-base percentage above .100, and nobody slugged higher than .068. But like pitching seasons, pitcher batting seasons can be fickle. None of those pitchers have career batting numbers anywhere near as bad as they did last season. Oh, they're bad, but they're not that bad.

Further illustrating the importance of pitcher hitting, two of those four horrible-hitting-even-for-a-pitcher pitchers signed large free agent contracts this past off-season. So you can see, when it comes to pitchers hitting, nobody cares. Or, more accurately, it isn't part of a team's calculus when spending big money on a free agent.

And so it was with Colon as well, who signed with the Mets over the winter.

The picture is hilarious. He's clearly out of his element, a terrified John Kruk facing Randy Johnson in the All Star Game. The thing is though, he kind of wasn't. I went back and watched the at-bat. With one out, Ruben Tejada singled just ahead of Colon, meaning Colon had to bunt. He tried to bunt up first base line twice, but the ball went foul both times. With two strikes he turned as if to bunt again, but then pulled the bat back to swing away. He gets caught in the confluence of all these things, but watching it in real time, it's clear Colon was not really jumping out of the way of a pitch that, had it been higher off the ground, could have been a pitchout. Then he bunted foul and was out, the end.

So you see, Colon wasn't quite running in fear from the pitch the way the photograph seems to say he was. In fact, he was doing something an actual hitter might do, faking a bunt on an 0-2 pitch. It's not quite the new SciFi series, Bartolo Colon: Hitting Savant, but it's a level of basic competency that we've grown accustomed to not seeing.

Colon had one other at-bat that day, and out of curiosity I watched that as well. It came in the bottom of the third inning. Colon took a pitch and, with the Mets announcers talking about how funny it was that he was batting, how he was afraid of the pitch, and how he wasn't going to hit anything at all, ha ha crack! Colon hit a hard one-hopper to the second baseman. He was thrown out by 50 feet, but it was good, hard contact! The pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, tried to snag it in his glove, but the ball was past him. It was only because the second baseman was positioned perfectly to the right of second base that Colon didn't single up the middle. As Colon ambled back to the dugout the crowd gave him an ovation. In an opinion formed over more than a century, nobody expects the pitcher to hit.

Yet these guys are still the best in the world at what they do. And really, when you think about what theyshould do and what they actually do, it's actually remarkable. For a player with little practice, years removed from regularly practicing this skill, a .350 OPS isn't impressive -- it's extraordinary.

See? Bartolo Colon is a good hitter after all.

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/71693338/new-york-mets-bartolo-colon-among-worst-hitting-pitchers-ever

 

"they've traded on young players' desire for financial security to hold down salaries for future superstars"

 

It pays to invest in young stars early, but Padres' moves don't add up

 

Dave Cameron – Fangraphs

4/16/2014

Being a good young baseball player right now is a little bit like going onthat famous episode of Oprah: "You get a long-term deal, and you get a long-term deal, and you get a long-term deal!" On Monday, Jedd Gyorko became the latest youngster to land a big contract, signing a six-year contract with the San Diego Padres; the deal guarantees him at least $35 million and includes a team option that could push it closer to $50 million over seven seasons. The league is enjoying record profitability, and instead of chasing aging pricey free agents, teams like the Padres have chosen to take their newfound wealth and use it to keep their best young players around for six or seven prime years.

These deals have historically been big winners for MLB teams, as they've traded on young players' desire for financial security to hold down salaries for future superstars like Evan LongoriaAndrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Sale, and many others. The return on investment has been so consistently positive that teams are now racing to get similar deals done with every player who shows that they might have the ability to be a core building block for the future.

From 2008 through the end of the 2013 season, there were 47 contract extensions that covered at least four seasons, and most of them were in the six- or seven-year range, especially if you account for the team options that the players gave up in order to get their first big paycheck. As I noted in that analysis of those contracts, only a half dozen or so of those contracts have ended up not working out for the organization. The success rate on these deals has been extraordinarily high, especially when compared to the minefield that is free agency.

However, if there's one team that hasn't reaped the benefits of the recent extension craze, it's probably these very same San Diego Padres. Two of the half dozen or so deals that haven't worked out in the team's favor have been signed by the Padres: Cameron Maybin's five-year, $25 million deal and Cory Luebke's four-year, $12 million contract, both signed in March of 2012.

Since the start of the 2012 season, Maybin has managed just 618 plate appearances and hit a meager .235/.300/.339, racking up just 1.7Wins Above Replacement in the process. Things have been even worse for Luebke, as he's managed just 31 innings over the last two years, and he's going to spend all of 2014 rehabbing from a second Tommy John surgery as well. Neither Maybin nor Luebke are making big money on the deals they signed, but they combine to represent just a little less than 10 percent of San Diego's 2014 payroll. It's unclear if the Padres will get any value from either one this year.

Even the more minor deals the Padres have done haven't worked out particularly well of late. That March 2012 contract-palooza included giving a three-year, $9 million commitment to catcher Nick Hundley; he proceeded to hit .157/.219/.245 that year and played himself right out of a job. Even with a decent rebound season last year, the Padres certainly didn't save any money by giving Hundley a multi-year deal right before he fell apart.

The Padres haven't really hit a home run with a long-term extension since they re-signed Adrian Gonzalez on April 1, 2007. Including the team option that they eventually exercised, the Padres signed Gonzalez for five years at a ludicrously low total of just $15 million. Not per year; for the whole five years. By the time Gonzalez turned into one of the league's best hitters, he was making about 20 percent of his market value. That kind of deal is why teams are giving players with short track records big guaranteed paydays. If you get just one Adrian Gonzalez, the savings from that one deal alone can pay for a bunch of guys who don't ever get any better.

But there's a difference between signing Adrian Gonzalez and signing Cameron Maybin or Cory Luebke. If we know one thing about the baseball economy, it's that power-hitting RBI guys get paid ridiculous amounts of money. Miguel CabreraAlbert PujolsJoey Votto andPrince Fielder have all landed contracts totaling north of $200 million in recent years, while Adrian Gonzalez's long-term deal with the Red Sox totaled $154 million. Mark Teixeira got $180 million. Ryan Howard got $125 million. Freddie Freeman, who was three years away from reaching free agency, got $130 million just a few months ago, and his career high in home runs for a season is 23.

Maybin was a speed-and-defense center fielder whose value came in posting a decent batting line once you adjusted for the pitcher's paradise of Petco Park. Those guys are valuable, but they certainly don't get paid like cleanup-hitting first basemen. The same goes for Luebke, a pitcher with an average fastball who was never considered a premium prospect in the minors, and didn't have the kind of stuff or durability that teams look for when giving huge paychecks to starting pitchers. These guys are solid contributors when healthy, but neither had the kind of credentials that lead to huge arbitration awards or eventual free-agent bidding wars. The upside of signing a player like Maybin or Luebke was always a bit limited, simply because they didn't possess the same potential for huge future earnings like Gonzalez did.

And I think the same can be said of this deal for Gyorko. He's a nice, young player with decent power for a middle infielder, but it's not entirely clear that his long-term future remains at second base, especially with incumbent third baseman Chase Headley likely to leave as a free agent after the 2014 season. If Gyorko slides back over to third base, his power becomes unremarkable compared to his peer group, and he's never going to hit for a particularly high average or steal a bunch of bases.

In many ways, Gyorko as a third baseman might be comparable to a guy like David Freese, the now-Angels third baseman who was a playoff hero for the Cardinals back in 2011. After a couple of very productive years in St. Louis, he was awarded $3 million in his first trip through arbitration, and then got a meager raise to $5 million for the 2014 season. Guys who hit .270 with 20 to 25 home runs, don't steal many bases and aren't defensive specialists just don't really command significant salaries before they get to free agency, and even when they get within a year of the open market, Gyorko can ask Chase Headley about the Padres' willingness to spend big bucks to keep him around.

Gyorko is a good player, just like Maybin was a good player and Luebke was a good player. You want to have these guys on your team. It's not clear, however, that any of them were headed for the kinds of big paydays that make buying their futures in advance a good idea. When you sign a young player to a long-term deal, you take on the risk that he'll get injured or just never develop into more than what he already is. To make the deal work for the team, you want to try to lock up potential superstars before they become superstars so you can keep them around at non-superstar salaries.

The Padres, though, haven't developed any superstars since Gonzalez, and so they've ended up giving their long-term deals to injury-prone role players. Even if Gyorko avoids the health problems that his predecessors have faced, it's still not entirely clear to me that he has the kind of upside that will turn this contract into a huge bargain for the Padres. That doesn't make it a bad contract -- $35 million in today's baseball economy is a drop in the bucket, even for the Padres -- or even one the Padres will regret, but until San Diego starts developing real franchise players again, these early career extensions won't work out as well for them as they have for the rest of the league.

http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/it-pays-to-invest-in-young-stars-early-but-padres-moves-don-t-add-up-041614

 

"Do you think I'm a racist?"

ESPN.com

April 16, 9:33 AM ET
Blacks losing the numbers game


By Howard Bryant
ESPN.com

In the spring of 2000, Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and I sat in his office at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and the GM asked a direct question: "Do you think I'm a racist?"

The A's were in a difficult position. They had produced players such as Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson and Mike Norris and were situated in a city that housed a large African-American community and was historically and culturally famous, among numerous touchstones in the civil rights movement, for the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. But for the first time the A's were in danger of starting the regular season without a single African-American player on the roster.

Beane painfully listed his bona fides: the middle-class, diverse, military upbringing in San Diego; and his friendships with numerous African-American players, both inside and outside of baseball. The notion that he was purposely constructing a roster without black players was both hurtful and offensive.

I told Beane that I did not believe he was a racist, but the end result of the way baseball teams were increasingly being built -- targeting college players over high school prospects when 2 percent of college players are African-American, relying heavily on Latin American players, and reducing the emphasis on the stolen base in a power era -- would yield fewer black players.

Terrence Long ended up making the Athletics' 2000 roster, and an infamous milestone was averted, temporarily. Fourteen years later, as Jackie Robinson Day in baseball is again commemorated with disturbing, declining numbers of black participation, now down to 7.8 percent, the game might very well have reached its on-field nadir. Today, the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals do not employ an African-American player.

Then, as now, the culprits remain the same and the numbers are equally disturbing in the managing, front-office and general manager ranks, with a more recent obstacle to African-American management opportunities -- analytics.

On its face, data mining is obviously not a racist practice, but as Beane and I discussed a decade and a half ago, the unintended consequences of a changing world have produced stalls in progress for African-Americans. As analytics became more prolific in baseball front offices, so have the criteria to be hired. The hiring universe, the game of who gets the jobs, has been changing for more than a decade.

The days of ex-players -- black, white or Latino -- becoming general managers seem to be coming to an end, a reign of opportunity that was never exactly plentiful. Hall of Fame players such as Nolan Ryan have accepted team-president roles recently, but currently only three ex-players -- Beane, the Angels' Jerry Dipoto and the Phillies' Ruben Amaro Jr. -- currently hold GM jobs. In a baseball first, there are more Ivy Leaguers in GM positions -- the Mets' Sandy Alderson, the White Sox's Rick Hahn, the Astros' Jeff Luhnow, the Cubs' Theo Epstein and the Rangers' Jon Daniels -- than ex-players.

Outside of the batter's box, baseball has never been particularly swift in minority hiring, anyway. The American League hired a black manager (Cleveland's Frank Robinson) 28 years after its first black player (Cleveland's Larry Doby). The National League hired its first black manager (San Francisco's Frank Robinson) 35 years after its first black player (Brooklyn's Robinson). The National League waited another 11 years to hire another (San Francisco's Dusty Baker and Colorado's Don Baylor).

The path for an African-American to become a field manager has always been to play the game at the big league level -- generally at a very high level (of the 14 black managers in major league history, nine were former All-Stars and one, Frank Robinson, is a Hall of Famer) -- manage in the minor leagues and coach in the majors.

If the numbers of African-American players continue to drop toward the low single-digits, the traditional pool of black managers will cease along with the players. There has never been an African-American manager who did not first play in the major leagues, including the three in today's game -- the Rangers' Ron Washington, the Astros' Bo Porter and the Mariners' Lloyd McClendon.

The general manager ranks are even more threadbare. In the history of the game, there have been but four African-American general managers -- Bill Lucas (Atlanta), Bob Watson (Houston, New York Yankees), Kenny Williams (Chicago) and Tony Reagins (Los Angeles Angels). As the trend toward more statistical analysis has translated into more Ivy League hires at the general manager position, ex-players such as Williams and Watson, and baseball lifers like Lucas, now face yet another obstacle to the already existing difficulties of being hired. The line keeps moving.

The world is changing, as it always does, which presents opportunity inside of the despairing numbers. If being an Ivy Leaguer or a superior data-miner is becoming a defining criterion for the job regardless of race, then the sports enthusiast Ivy Leaguers who happen to be African-American might now have a career path into the game that once existed only to former players. It also means young African-Americans aspiring to work in baseball need to ramp up their SAT scores, diversify their skills and meet the challenge. Peter Woodfork, MLB's vice president for on-field operations and a rising star in the commissioner's office, is Harvard-educated and proof of what is possible.

Jackie Robinson Day should not only be a time of reflection and commemoration of April 15, 1947, or of lamenting the realities that -- whether baseball wants to confront it or not -- subtle and outright racism has always in large part explained the dismally low front-office hiring numbers and pathetically long waits between hiring milestones. It is the wait, the recognition of that racism and hardship, that makes it a milestone. It is also a reminder for African-Americans to simply be better, to adapt and succeed as the rules change. The finish line might seem continually to move farther away, but nothing was ever achieved, and nothing ever gained, without being ready and willing to fight.

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10787176/mlb-blacks-losing-numbers-game

 

 

THIS is what happens when an agent falls in love with his own BS

Mariners offered Morales multi-year deal in 2013, it was declined

Post by Todd Dybas / The News Tribune on April 15, 2014

Caterwauling about the Seattle Mariners’ offense reached its typical level Monday morning. The Mariners were shut out Sunday and shut down during three losses in the prior four games when they scored a run total.

Seven runs in Texas on Monday night quelled some of the angst. Yet, a question was often repeated: What about Kendrys Morales?

Morales is a free agent still available after spending last season mostly as an effective designated hitter for Seattle. Morales, 30, hit 23 home runs and had a .785 OPS during 2013, one of his few healthy full seasons in the big leagues. He also moonlighted as a first baseman during more desperate times last year.

Despite multiple attempts by the club to re-sign Morales, he’s not part of the Mariners.

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik fielded questions at the end of a meet-and-greet with season-ticket holders on opening night at Safeco Field. He was asked about Morales and said the Mariners had offered him a three-year, $30 million contract, which was declined. The offer was made during last season after the All-Star break.

The Mariners then made Morales a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer after the season, which he also rejected. A qualifying offer is equal to the average salary of the 125 top-paid players in the Majors the prior season and would bind the player to his current team for one season. Last offseason, 13 players were offered qualifying offers. All declined.

Seattle moved on. It signed Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. Morales continued to be dangled by his agent, Scott Boras, without settling on a deal.

So, Morales waits.

The Mariners are the only team that could sign Morales prior to the June 5 MLB draft without losing a compensatory first-round pick (with the first 10 picks in the draft protected). After June 5, teams will not be penalized for signing him and his market may open up. Forfeited picks do not go to other MLB teams. Instead, the first round is reduced.

Also, now that the season has begun, Morales cannot be given a qualifying offer at the end of 2014. He would again become a free agent.

There has been a void at designated hitter for the Mariners during the early part of 2014. Hart came into Tuesday with a .167 batting average. He’s struck out 11 times and has six hits as the team’s primary DH.

Morales will remain a switch-hitting what-if, who comes with injury flags and an agent renowned for pumping up price.

But, there is one thing that trumps all of that: He can hit. Which begs the question if he can still fit with Seattle and, if so, at what price?

http://blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners/2014/04/15/mariners-offered-morales-multi-year-deal-in-2013-he-declined/#storylink=cpy


 “Nobody’s offered to pay them what they’re worth.”

Why Haven’t Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales Signed Yet? And Why Is Tony Clark So Cheesed Off?

APRIL 15, 2014

by MICHAEL BAUMANN

 

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is really cheesed off.

Why is he so cheesed off?

Oh, hello, useful question-asking personality device. It’s good to see you again. Well, last week, Buster Olney talked to a bunch of executives about what Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales might be worth. Clark, the head of the players’ union, thinks this was tantamount to collusion by setting artificially low market prices for the two top remaining free agents, and wants MLB to investigate.

Will it?

No, because even if MLB was inclined to investigate the management of its teams (for whom the commissioner’s office works) at the behest of the players’ association (against which it is by definition at odds over money), Bud Selig has no means to compel Olney to talk. NBC’s Craig Calcaterra joked that the commissioner’s office should try the same kind of lawsuit it used to get Tony Bosch to flip over Biogenesis, but good luck trying to sue a business partner (ESPN) with considerable financial might over something this trivial. If I’d written that story and Selig asked me to give up my sources, I’d literally give him the finger.

But Olney’s not going to do that, right?

No, from what I’ve heard, he’s much more polite and tactful than I am. Plus, Selig’s too smart to even ask.

So what happens now?

Clark takes a few deep breaths, nobody sues, and we forget about the whole thing by Friday.

Makes sense. Though wait a second … why haven’t Drew and Morales signed anywhere yet?

Nobody’s offered to pay them what they’re worth.

And why not? They’re useful players.

Well, Morales is a 30-year-old first baseman/DH, and if a player is going to be worth a lot of money at those positions, he’s really got to mash. Morales isn’t young enough or good enough to be a building block for a team that’s looking to be good down the road, and just about every club that’s trying to contend this season is pretty well set at first base, except for the Pirates.

Drew’s failure to sign is a little more puzzling. He’s almost as good of a hitter as Morales, but he can actually play shortstop, and guys who can hit and play shortstop are incredibly rare. Drew could also move to second or third base and hit well enough to stick there. The Yankees are fielding a double-play combination of Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts, which would have been the best in baseball in 2007 or so, but New York will be lucky to get 162 games combined out of those two now. The Yankees and about half a dozen other teams could really use a player like Drew.

So what’s the holdup?

Draft picks. I typed out a whole explanation of the new free-agent compensation system, but even the quick and dirty version was 500 words long, so here’s the really short version: Any team that signs Drew or Morales before June’s draft will have to give up a first-round pick. It’s more complicated than that, so if you want to know more, gohere or ask me after class. Someday I’ll write a comprehensive guide to comparative draft pick compensation, but that day is not today.

So why is this only a problem for Drew and Morales?

Well, it was a problem for a bunch of guys, like Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana. But Cruz and Jimenez signed with the Orioles, who also lost a competitive balance pick when they acquired Bud Norris last season and frankly seem to be punting on this draft, while Santana signed a one-year deal with the Braves at the last minute after a rash of injuries forced Atlanta to acquire an arm. Drew and Morales haven’t found teams desperate enough for their services to justify losing the draft pick.

Think of it this way: Drew thinks he’s worth X dollars. In a vacuum, a team might be willing to give Drew X dollars, but in reality, he’s only worth X dollars minus the cost of the draft pick the team that signs him has to surrender. This is less of an issue for the Robinson Canos of the world, because no one’s going to get into trouble overpaying for a world-class player. But for Drew and Morales, and for guys like Cruz, Jimenez, and Santana, who happened to get lucky at the eleventh hour, the marginal cost of that draft pick is huge.

Let’s say you want to go out for dinner, but your hometown has elected a freedom-hating socialist mayor who decreed that all prepared meals come with a $5 excise tax. This may have already happened in New York City. If you’re going out to a fancy French restaurant because you use money to impress women, and you spend $300 on some food I’ve never heard of because I went to public school, that $5 tax is an afterthought. But if you don’t have a date and you want to go to McDonald’s, you’re probably going to stay home and cook something instead, because the only thing more pathetic than spending $7 on McDonald’s for one is spending $12 on McDonald’s for one.

Been eating a lot of McDonald’s for one lately, have we, Mike?

Bite me. It’s a metaphor.

But eventually you’re going to get to that point when you’re so hungry that you’re willing to spend $12 on McDonald’s for one, aren’t you?

No. [Tugs collar, sniffles.]

Not you personally.

Right. Well, here’s the thing: I’m kind of shocked the Detroit Tigers haven’t signed Drew already. Like the Braves before the Santana signing, the Tigers are a really good team with a glaring hole. They lost Jose Iglesias for the season, and instead of signing Drew, they replaced Iglesias with Alex Gonzalez. Iglesias can’t hit, but as a defender, he’s very slightly sub–Andrelton Simmons, which makes him a league-average player at least. Gonzalez, particularly at age 37, is utter buttcrack as a shortstop. If he qualifies for the batting title, I would give him odds on being the worst player in the American League. Last year, Drew was a three-win player in 124 games. Plug him in for Gonzalez, and he makes Detroit five or six wins better over the course of a season.

The Tigers are the favorites to win the AL Central, but they’re not so good (nor are the Indians or Royals so bad) that they have five or six wins to just screw around with. Add that the Tigers’ team strategy over the past couple of years has been driven by Mike Ilitch’s desire to spend all his money to win a World Series before he dies, and I’m staggered they haven’t signed Drew.

Particularly because they could sign Drew, then trade for a first-round pick if they want one back that badly, right?

Actually, no. Teams can’t trade draft picks in baseball. Not as many people know this as you’d think.

That’s stupid. What happens after the draft? Do they give up a 2015 pick?

No. After the draft, the board gets wiped and any team can sign any player without giving up a pick, but we’ve never gotten that far before. Honestly, that’s what I think will happen: Relieved of the burden of transferring a draft pick, some team that needs Drew or Morales (my money’s on the Tigers and Pirates, respectively) will throw its entire budget surplus at one of those guys, and everyone will go home happy. But until McDonald’s for one only costs $7 again, Drew and Morales might not be going anywhere.

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/stephen-drew-kendrys-morales-mlb-free-agents-remain-unsigned/

 

 

 

“job security relies on opportunity”

 

Twins want players to be honest, and cautious, with injuries

 

 04/14/2014

The jig was up when Oswaldo Arcia sat down with the training staff in manager Ron Gardenhire's office moments after the Twins right fielder finished batting practice Wednesday at Target Field.

Arcia felt his injured right wrist was healing and wanted to play against Oakland. But Gardenhire knew better after watching his hesitant hitting session in the cage.

Under cross examination, Arcia conceded that his bothersome wrist was hampering his swing and begrudgingly agreed with the club relegating him to the 15-day disabled list.

Shutting down because of injury is loathsome for young players like Arcia, who still are building big-league resumes.

Talent creates buzz, but job security relies on opportunity.

"Exactly," Arcia said. "Ballplayers play every day. You want to be on the field every day. But my swing was no good. It was very different."

Getting Arcia to see the big picture was no small feat.

He can be stubborn. His halting English can make communication tricky. However, trust is crucial for the front office to determine what is in the best interests of the player and team when managing nuanced injuries. A trip to the disabled list can be more prudent than playing through pain.

"When they're faced with the facts -- If we put you out there and you get hurt, you could be out for a month," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "Now you might have a more serious injury. So you have to be honest with us, and if it's bothering you now, let's rest it, rehab it and do whatever we need to so we're not dealing with this all season.

"I think when that was bluntly said to him, (Arcia responded), 'OK, I understand.' But it can get frustrating."

Since "bilateral leg weakness" emerged in tangled messages in 2012 about Joe Mauer's nettlesome maladies, the Twins have been proactive about disclosing player injuries. Antony, and before him general manager Terry Ryan, meets with beat writers before every game to share diagnoses, rehabilitation protocols and recovery timelines.

Arcia, 2 for 18 this season, suffered the injury during the first series in Chicago, then aggravated it April 4 in Cleveland while hitting in an indoor batting cage. Two days later, left fielder Josh Willingham was hit in the left wrist by a Justin Masterson fastball.

Both players spent last week receiving treatment and taking swings but neither could work their way back into the lineup. Willingham was placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to April 7, after a CT scan revealed a small fracture.

Arcia is eligible to come off the disabled list April 20 but reported little progress after Sunday's 4-3 victory over Kansas City. He is eager to prove his durability after injuries plagued him in 2013.

Arcia missed several weeks during spring training because of an intercostal strain in his right side, which prevented him from making the Opening Day roster. In late May, his right (throwing) shoulder flared up, limiting him to designated hitter duties for several weeks at Triple-A Rochester.

In July, his right knee acted up, followed by a bone bruise in his left wrist in August. Arcia missed all but one game during a 15-day span.

Meanwhile, Darin Mastroianni, recalled last week to replace Arcia, is finally healthy after a nightmarish 2013 season in which he battled a pair of debilitating leg injuries.

He suffered a broken tibia the final week of spring training and struggled to play through it in April. Then he suffered an ankle injury that required surgical pins.

It became painful just to watch Mastroianni try to regain his speed, swing and confidence during a disastrous September call-up. But Mastroianni, another young player fighting to gain traction in the big leagues, has no regrets about his lost season.

"I think I would have felt worse if I sat out the whole year and didn't push myself to get back," he said last week. "We had to make a decision: Do we push this thing hard and try to get back or do we let it heal and deal with it this year?

"We made the decision to try to push through and get back last year and I got back. It just didn't go the way I wanted. I wasn't ready. It was pretty obvious I wasn't the same player. I don't regret it, though."

Mastroianni plays as if his job is always on the line.

"I don't want to sit at home and make money," he said. "I don't want to say I played for the Twins for two years and one year I was just sitting at home collecting a paycheck. I don't count that. It made me a better baseball player going through trials and tribulations I wouldn't have had to go through if I didn't get hurt."

http://www.twincities.com/twins/ci_25565268/twins-want-players-be-honest-and-cautious-injuries